A PLACE IN HISTORY?
This is a guest post by "Gumnam," is an Anguished Indian
There is no doubt that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, by virtue of his political skills and force of personality, would find a befitting niche in India’s contemporary history. He has become PM of the world’s biggest democracy, twice in succession; having led his party to overwhelming electoral victories, with yet another win remaining a distinct, if tantalizing, possibility. He has also made his mark on the international stage.
Modi’s predecessor, Dr Manmohan Singh, criticised for being weak and indecisive, had ruefully remarked that history would be kinder to him than the media and political opposition. Given Modi’s concern about his image, it would be surprising if he did not wish to be remembered by posterity. But history is selective about whom it chooses to place on a pedestal.
Dwelling on his long years in public life PM Modi made a significant statement on Gandhi Jayanti. He remarked: “…for my own healthy development, I attach big importance to criticism. I, with an honest mind, respect critics a lot. But, unfortunately, the number of critics is very few.” A constructive critique of where India is currently poised is offered in these columns.
A sense of exceptionalism, not unmixed with hubris, has, historically, led us to assume that India’s ‘manifest destiny,’ guarantees it a place on the international ‘high table.’ However, the reality is, that if the ship of state is not steered with sagacity and wisdom, there is a distinct possibility that India may remain a large and overpopulated, third-world nation; nuclear-armed and boasting of a significant GDP, but still full of poor and hungry people. A review of the current government’s record, in the past 7-years, shows that most of its major achievements lie in fulfilment of the Sangh Parivar’s long-cherished agenda, in two separate, but related dimensions.
Firstly, concerns were expressed, as early as in 1949, by the Jammu-based Praja Parishad (PP) party, about Article 370, which entitled J&K to its own constitution, flag, and ‘Prime Minister.’ Viewing this as a threat to national unity, and raising the slogan of “ek Nishan, ek Pradhan aur ek Vidhan” (one flag, one prime minister, and one constitution), the PP launched an agitation in 1953. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, founder of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh (the political wing of the RSS), who had joined this agitation, died in jail, lending this issue, a sharply emotive edge.
In 1964, the PP merged with the Jan Sangh, which, in turn, joined the newly-formed Janata Party in 1977, only to break away, three years later, and reincarnate itself as the BJP in 1980. Through all these transitions, the Parivar has remained consistently focused on the ‘assimilation’ of J&K. Thus, the adroitly managed, August 2019, abrogation of Article 370 and fragmentation of J&K represented the triumphant culmination of their long-standing aspirations.
The second dimension of the agenda relates to the ‘Hindutva project’ with all its consequences. In the process of explaining the concept of Hindutva, political activist and freedom fighter, VD Savarkar, had, in 1923, defined a Hindu as one, “…to whom, Hindustan is not only a Fatherland (Pitrabhu) but also a Holyland (Punyabhu).” This definition, while seeking to render the term ‘Hindu,’ synonymous with ‘Indian,’ excludes the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), from the ambit of Hindutva.
It is in the light of BJP’s quest for a ‘Hindu rashtra,’ that the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, the impending National Register of Citizens and pursuit of the Ram Mandir must be seen. Here again, by swaying the Hindutva-inclined segment of India’s electorate to vote for BJP, Modi has paid his dues to the Sangh Parivar.
While electoral victories, no doubt, add to Modi’s stature, national interest demands that domestic politics not be allowed to impact adversely on the country’s security and external relations; especially in our sensitive neighbourhood. While India’s slide on the scale of global indices – from poverty and hunger to democracy and press freedom - is not flattering, domestic discontent, too, is growing. Having fought (and won) enough elections, the time has now come, for PM Modi, to rise above party interests, and to focus sharply on national interest, especially where the two are divergent. Here are three pointers from a septuagenarian citizen, that call for reflection.
Firstly; the current surge of majoritarianism, represents a deadly, creeping virus. It may help win elections, but the steadily alienation of India’s minorities, constituting a fifth of the population, will irreparably damage national cohesion and severely undermine internal security. Historically, every great leader, from Garibaldi to Bismarck and from Tito to Mandela, made his mark, by demonstrating the outstanding ability to bring about domestic unity and reconciliation, and by applying the healing-touch, where required.
Secondly; it is our fond assumption that the source of India’s influence in the world is the ‘power of its example.’ The world, did indeed, envy the ability of our culture to embrace diversity and assimilate people of varied faiths, languages and ethnicity into its resilient fabric. Tolerance is the hallmark of a self-confident and dynamic civilization, secure in its identity and free of paranoia. We cannot overlook the fact that, in a multi-faith society, like ours, short-term electoral benefits of religious-polarisation, are far outstripped by the long-term damage inflicted on peace, harmony and the social fabric. Apart from spreading hate and bigotry, excessive emphasis on religion has diluted focus on important issues like health, education, science & technology.
Lastly; we must face the reality that India’s lofty claims to being a ‘vishwa-guru’ or universal teacher, ring hollow to others. While political discourse has turned increasingly abusive, speaking ‘truth to power’ has become a cognizable offence, and public functionaries/institutions have disappointed by their demonstrated lack of integrity and moral-fibre in the face of political intimidation. Contempt for ethical and democratic norms is manifest in the open trading of legislators, and in the instant post-retirement rewards for pliant public servants.
Clearly, to deserve the title of ‘vishwa-guru,’ we must, first, become exemplars of ‘dharma’ or ethical conduct, at home, for our own youth to follow.